St. Paul of Tarsus and St. Onesimus the Slave

“Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.”

— St. Paul of Tarsus, First Epistle to St. Timothy, Cap. VI, 1

I have loved the readings for Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday ever since I was an undergrad. My first real Lutheran pastor pointed out to me how prominently the Old Testament features in our resurrected Lord’s catechesis of his disciples in Luke 24. First, Jesus unfolds the Scriptures to the Emmaus disciples:

Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Then he does the same for the ten who are gathered in the locked upper room:

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.

It may have been a prosaic point, but it has stuck with me ever since. Let it be made again: the Old Testament is a book about Jesus Christ. Father Abraham rejoiced to the see the day of the Lord (John 8), and even Moses the Lawgiver preached the Gospel of peace, as Jesus testifies to the Jews in John 5:

Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. … Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me.

Abraham and Moses were Christians. These men believed in the promises of God, as did their father Eber[1] and his father Shem and his father Noah and his father Seth and his father Adam. They heard Christ’s declaration of victory and absolution with their own ears when he descended into Hades between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They’re in heaven now. So they not only were Christians; they are Christians.[2]

The Old Testament preaches Christ, because it is the Word of God. God forbid that we engage in hermeneutical Docetism (“Gospel reductionism”) whereby we select from the Old Testament (or the New, for that matter) “those things that preach Christ”—as though we can extra-textually decide what does and does not do so—and then use this manmade canon to measure the rest. All of Scripture has something to teach us about the mystery into which the angels longed to look. “What still sublimer thing can remain hidden in the Scriptures, now that the seals have been broken, and the supreme mystery brought to light, namely, that Christ the Son of God has been made man, that God is three and one, that Christ has suffered for us and is to reign eternally?” Luther asks rhetorically in the Bondage of the Will, mocking Erasmus for his claim that Scripture is obscure. “Take Christ out of the Scriptures, and what will you find left in them?”[3] This is again rhetorical: you can’t take Christ out of the Scriptures; it is impossible. That is the point Luther is making.[4]

You would think, then, that Lutherans would be particularly solicitous to expound the full counsel of God’s Word on every topic, since the mystery of Christ leavens the whole lump of it. And we do claim to be. For what darkness cannot be illuminated from the light of the sacred page? What vexing topic cannot be elucidated by the words of the Holy Spirit? Is there anything in heaven and on earth that is undreamt of in God’s philosophy? Simple, honest Christians know the answers to these rhetorical questions.[5]

But how does the Lutheran claim hold up? Pretty well, in general. Very well, if we include the Voters Assembly of the Dead.

But do we? If you’ve been following this blog so far, you may have noticed that it is concerned with some Biblical topics that North American Lutheranism seems to have forgotten. It isn’t so much that the topics themselves have been forgotten; rather, it’s that Lutherans—even conservative Lutherans—no longer know how to proceed Biblically when thinking about them and have become conformed to the pattern of this present and evil world. They, we, have become “politically correct” according to the Polis Anthropou. 

This is the result of weak, timid, lukewarm, and sometimes outright false teaching. While all Christians, teachers and hearers alike, are accountable to God for adulterating his saving Word and making a false confession, teachers are subject to stricter judgment (see James 3:1). There is, in fact, an answer to this chicken/egg question: false teachers came first. The first false teacher was Satan, the fallen angel who preached a false Gospel.[6] So strict is the judgment against him that there is no salvation for him; indeed, we are saved from him, all of his works, and all of his ways. The itching ears of undiscerning hearers are the necessary condition for the perpetuity of false doctrine, for every false teacher was once (and remains) an undiscerning hearer, but they are not its cause. False teaching is the cause.

And false teaching is often a sin of omission. Which brings us, at long last, to the point.

Old Lutherans originated with an observation. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that a single recent observation was the straw that broke the camel’s back, or the flint that set alight the heap of faggots:

Right after Moses delivered the Ten Commandments to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai, he delivered to them first of all—being of first importance, as it were, after the Decalog itself—that which he also received from God: laws about altars (Exodus 20:23-26), and laws about slaves (Exodus 21).

Yet Exodus 21 is conspicuously absent from basically all LCMS lectionaries. You will not find it in the popular Treasury of Daily Prayer, which follows the Daily Lectionary of the Lutheran Service Book (see page 300). Not only is Exodus 21 omitted, but it also is not featured in italics as a suggested extended reading, as is often done with other pericopes.

Nor will the careful reader be able to locate Exodus 21 in the daily lectionary of the venerable Lutheran Hymnal of 1941:

Search all 1024 pages of the LSB Altar Book for “Exodus,” and you will see that a pericope from Exodus 21 is not to be found as an optional Old Testament reading—not for the One-Year lectionary, and not for the Three-Year lectionary.

Scour the 2017 Synodical Catechism Formerly Known as Small for references to Exodus 21, and you will come up dry. In readily accessible first and second-tier lay devotional resources, a lone reference to “killing through carelessness” (Exodus 21:29) appears in the 1943 Synodical Catechism’s gloss on the Fifth Commandment (loc. cit., page 67).

If your church circulates a parochial “Congregation at Prayer,” take a look at the schedule of readings. In my experience, and in that of the friends I polled, Exodus 21 always gets the axe, even when the reading schedule is fairly gap-free.

A typical example.

Did the words of Exodus 21 fall inconsiderately from the Holy Ghost? Its absence from LCMS lectionaries is especially conspicuous in the current year, when “alt-right”[7] Lutheran Twitter users are subject to Jeremiads from the highest levels of the Synod for being, among other things, “pro-slavery.”[8] This certainly gives the impression to the uninitiated and biblically illiterate that such deplorables have taken up a position (or a variety of positions) at odds with the Bible.

But they haven’t. The Bible actually says that slavery is a godly institution. Scripture would have us believe that slavery is at times a mercy to the enslaved and at other times a punishment or chastisement—of the slave, the master, or both. That slavery as we know it would not have existed before the fall is no argument against it, just as it is no argument against the rectitude of the medical profession, law enforcement, the military, capital punishment, or Ruth’s Chris Steak House that none of them would have existed before the fall, either.

It also bears mentioning that “chattel slavery” is a term worthy of the Department of Redundancy Department. The word “chattel” makes people think of chains and Kunta Kinte, but in reality it just means “property.” The Ninth Commandment is about your neighbor’s property in general; the Tenth Commandment is a representative itemization of his property: wife, servants (slaves, since hired servants weren’t property—they also had a lower status than slaves), cattle (cf. chattel, capital; let’s hear it for the 1943 Catechism![9]), anything that is thy neighbor’s (lit. “et cetera”). Yes, wives belong to their husbands, like Christians belong to Christ—or is it not your hope and prayer that you would be his own and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness?

Abusus non tollit sed confirmat substantiam; “Abuse [of a thing] does not destroy [the thing] but confirms the substance [of the thing].”[10] The truth of this axiom extends to more than just the sacraments. Godly hierarchy, which is to say patriarchy, most certainly did exist before the fall, and you’d better thank your heavenly Father that it will exist in Paradise. The only place where you’ll find pure liberté, egalité, and fraternité free from any taint of patriarcat is Hell.

We’re not laying down an argument in this post; we are merely pointing out the basic Scriptural data. This is just a pilot for a whole batch of content here at Old Lutherans, and frankly it is all going to be redundant. This blog is a dwarf on the shoulders of giants. Luther, Melanchthon, Brenz, Chemnitz, Gerhard, Balduin, Hengstenberg, Keil, von Harless, Walther, Sihler, Pieper, Kretzmann. These men knew the testimony of God’s Word on the topic of slavery—and on many other topics, hot in their day and ours—and they were not ashamed to believe it, teach it, and confess it. Start at Luther and go backward rather than forward in time, and the result is the same. They did not want, nor did they receive, the approval of the arbiters of Respectable Opinion in their day. They did not want, nor did they receive, the praise of men. They did not start with, nor did they end with, “What am I allowed to believe alongside the American Creed?” Great is their reward in heaven.

Old Lutherans invites you to face the doctrine of your fathers in the faith. Test it against Scripture and plain reason. If you find it to be in accord with the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions, submit to them as to Christ. If you cannot silence them from Scripture and yet would still demur from their instruction, you simply are not a Lutheran. God alone knows your heart. It’s not our place to say that you’re an unbeliever. But at that point, the honest thing to do would be to find a different confession in which to work out your salvation, because the Evangelical-Lutheran Church is simply not your turf. There is no magic dirt on the floor of the True Visible Church on Earth. Take off your shoes and get your feet washed, or get out. We do not show our temple furnishings to Assyrians, and we do not give that which is holy unto dogs.

Hopefully, though, it will not come to that. Our true goal here is to gain you, brother. We want you at our altar, and we want you in our church. For the Lutheran Church is Christ’s Church, and her liturgy is a beacon for his elect.[11] Come in from the stormy sea which rages with every wind of this world’s doctrine. Board the Ark of Christ’s body, ye clean lost sheep of Israel. Only see to it that you enter through the strait gate, the door of his wounded side, which is sealed with his sacred shed blood.

More to come. Thank you for reading Old Lutherans.


[1] “The 13th-century Muslim historian Abu al-Fida relates a story noting that the patriarch Eber (great-grandson of Shem) refused to help with the building of the Tower of Babel so that his language was not confused when it was abandoned. He and his family alone retained the original human language (a concept referred to as lingua humana in Latin), Hebrew, a language named after Eber” (“Eber”; Wikipedia). I don’t think Hebrew was the Ur-language, but I do like to think that Eber was among the faithful Shemites. There is more reason to give Eber the benefit of the doubt on this score than Ben Shapiro, a midwit blasphemer whom certain LCMS pastors fawn over, take selfies with, and invite to speak to their congregations during Bible class.

[2] As an aside: neither of these men was a Jew. I’m not being edgy, friends. They literally were not Jews in any sense of the word. The Jews were descendants of Judah. Abraham was Judah’s great grandfather, and Moses was a descendant of Judah’s brother Levi.

[3] Op. cit. (LW 33:25-26)

[4] See J. T. Mueller, Luther’s “Cradle of Christ,” Christianity Today, October 24, 1960: “Every now and then, in reading publication that deny the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture, we find Luther’s evaluation of the Bible quoted as the manger or cradle of Christ in the sense that Luther, highly esteeming the Christ of Scripture, regarded less highly the Scriptures setting forth Christ. They may also add that according to Luther the words and stories of the Bible are unpretentious swaddling clothes, while only Christ, who is the treasure that lies within, is precious. This interpretation of Luther’s statement calls for examination.”

[5] (1) No darkness; (2) no vexing topic; (3) no. Spare me the Big Brain derp about the Bible “not being a science textbook” or the Holy Spirit “not attempting to give precise history.” You people and your studious insistence on missing the point are going to be the death of the Lutheran Church.

[6] The first evil bishop, who ordained a woman to preach a false Gospel, to be precise. Pastor Rolf Preus contends that it was in fact Adam who ordained Eve: “The chronological order of Creation establishes the order for the right relationship between man and woman from the beginning to the end of time. God speaks to the woman through the man. The man spoke for God. God chose to speak to the woman through the man. When the man disobeyed God it was because he listened to the voice of his wife. God had not given to Eve the authority to speak on his behalf to the man. By listening to her voice and obeying her Adam acquiesced to her assuming the pastoral office. He made her his pastor. He ordained her. The ordination of a woman was the original sin” (Rolf D. Preus, “The Service of Women in and for the Church,” Christ For Us, June 2008). In that case, Satan was the first District President who sent the first voters assembly (consisting of Adam) an ineligible candidate. Now we know the origin of that most auspicious LCMS tradition.

[7] No amount of disambiguation can save this term. “But then, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility that this ambiguity is precisely the point,” Lutheran blogger Matthew Cochran notes. He goes on: “Inasmuch as we ask ourselves now whether we are targets for excommunication, we will be asking the same question before we speak out next time Synod publicly embraces false teaching. If a pastor acts like Luther did and publicly stands against the official errors of his day, will Synod come for his pulpit? If a layperson talks about public teaching on social media, will he be getting a call from his elders if he gets too many views? Whatever the letter says about welcoming theological concerns, the clear and objective effect is to place a Sword of Damocles over the necks of any would-be critics” (Matthew Cochran, “Excommunicating the Alt-Right,” The 96th Thesis, February 2023).

[8] Yet the same Jeremiahs evidently can Not See any of the incursions of the truly godless far left (I prefer the term “teleological left”) in the LCMS. See upcoming post “The Window and the Wall” for the proper distinction between the left, which is godless, and the right, which is not.

[9] Also superior on the form and meaning of the Fourth Commandment: “The Fourth Commandment. Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not despise our parents and masters, nor provoke them to anger, but give them honor, serve and obey them, and hold them in love and esteem” (Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, §. The Fourth Commandment, St. Louis, 1943, p. 6; emphases mine). The 1921 Triglotta English translation is very close and is also superior to the 1986. “American workers adopted the word ‘boss’ in the nineteenth century, when the old title of ‘master’ began to chafe their republican pride. A slave had a ‘master’ but a free man had a ‘boss.’ The common point of master and boss is that both had hold of ‘the whip hand’” (J. M. Smith, “Living on Sufferance,” The Orthosphere, January 2018).

[10] A favorite legal maxim of Martin Luther’s, cited in the Large Catechism (Part IV, Holy Baptism, 59) and in “Concerning Rebaptism” (LW 40:246, 248).

[11] “We do not sell Jesus. We proclaim Him to be risen from the dead and are too busy being excited about that to give a particular damn what some heathen thinks about it: as many as are appointed to eternal life will believe, the elect of every nation will be gathered, nothing can stop God’s plan and purpose and nothing can direct or control it. It is Christ’s to weep over unbelieving Jerusalem, and surely as little Christ’s [sic] we will learn to do the same: but ours is not to understand the mystery of unbelief, let alone think that we can solve it by our machinations when Christ himself could not. Instead, the Church just turns on the beacon of God’s Word in the liturgy so that the elect know where they are supposed to gather.” (Heath R. Curtis, “Freed from the Shopkeeper’s Prison: Election, Evangelism, and Functional Arminianism,” May 9, 2011).

3 responses to “Confessing the Biblical Truth About Slavery”

  1. […] the new interpretation, which seems to have been adduced from an ad hoc polemical position against “alt-right” Lutherans, is […]

  2. […] And here we have the obligatory implied apology for the terribly embarrassing and offensive portions of Israelite law, as given by God. […]

  3. […] And here we have the obligatory implied apology for the terribly embarrassing and offensive portions of Israelite law, as given by God. […]

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